Australia’s Human Rights Council election comes with a challenge to improve its domestic record



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Australia’s campaign for a seat on the Human Rights Council opened it to further scrutiny of its record on such issues.
Reuters/Denis Balibouse

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle and Georgia Monaghan, University of Newcastle

Australia has been elected to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. It will serve on the council from 2018 to 2020.

The announcement overnight formalised an assumed result: Australia and Spain were the only two countries seeking election to the two available seats for the Western Europe and Others group. Most of the other newly- elected council members similarly ran uncontested.

However, all campaigning countries required the support of a majority of voting countries to ensure their election. Australia received 176 votes and Spain 180 – both survived grilling by an expert committee.

How did Australia present itself as a candidate?

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop led Australia’s campaign, which had a particular focus on freedoms, free speech, and equality. The “five pillars” of Australia’s bid were:

  • gender equality

  • good governance

  • freedom of expression

  • the rights of Indigenous peoples

  • strong national human rights institutions and capacity building.

Australia presented itself as a “pragmatic and principled” candidate for the council position. Bishop cited Australia’s “strong track record for human rights” as well as its active and practical involvement in international affairs.

Such active and practical involvement can be seen in Australia’s advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty, as in the case of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. Furthering global advocacy for death penalty abolition is one of Australia’s primary pledges as a new council member.

Australia’s involvement in multiple UN treaties and its anticipated adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture were also cited as evidence of its worthiness for election.

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Australia’s bid and opportunities for human rights advocacy

However, Australia’s campaign opened it to further scrutiny of its human rights record. Human rights organisations in Australia and overseas have been lobbying to ensure that Australia’s practices are well publicised and subject to oversight and critique.

In December 2016, Bishop sought to pre-empt such criticism, claiming “no country is perfect”. Bishop pledged to be “honest and open” about Australia’s human rights record during the campaign.

Yet the campaign’s pledges failed to acknowledge Australia’s human rights abuses. As such, Australia remains open to accusations of hypocrisy on human rights.

Australia’s human rights track record is more chequered than it would claim. The UN has condemned Australia for its asylum-seeker policies and treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Bishop frequently praised Australia for its success in building a multicultural society and valuing the diverse background of migrant settlers. Yet asylum seekers arriving by boat continue to be dehumanised.


Further reading: ‘Fake refugees’: Dutton adopts an alternative fact to justify our latest human rights violation


Another key area of human rights controversy is the current postal plebiscite to survey public opinion on marriage equality. Australia’s council bid promised the protection of LGBTQI rights. But as was forewarned, the plebiscite campaign has exposed LGBTQI people to harmful fear campaigning and social exclusion.

It is incongruous for a claimed champion of human rights to put the rights of a minority group to a popular vote, potentially in an effort to prevent that group from gaining marriage equality.

Australia strikes a similarly dissonant note in relation to its treatment of Indigenous people. A key pledge of the council bid was the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. However, a constitutional convention rejected the form of “recognition” the government-sponsored Recognise campaign had promoted.

The Recognise campaign has since been abandoned, and the future of the proposed referendum is unclear. The Australian government is yet to embrace the Referendum Council’s proposals for treaty, truth-telling and a First Nations Voice.


Further reading: Listening to the heart: what now for Indigenous recognition after the Uluru summit?


France’s withdrawal was a loss to the election campaign

Given Australia’s record, France’s withdrawal as a third candidate for the two available seats was unfortunate. The lack of competition reduced pressure on Australia to extend its human rights commitments.

The weight of international disapproval of Australia’s practice in relation to refugees, in particular, could well have weakened the bid had France stayed in the race.

No doubt this was also true for Spain. The recent Catalan independence referendum exposed Spain’s problematic record in relation to self-determination and political rights for minority groups.


Further reading: As Spain represses Catalonia’s show of independence, the rest of Europe watches on nervously


In interesting company

The UN’s orientation is to promote inclusion rather than marginalisation of member countries on international bodies. The UN is committed to universal values and obligations, and seeks to enforce these through universal involvement in its processes.

It is undoubtedly difficult to countenance egregious human rights violators participating in human rights processes. But it is at least arguable that their involvement promotes the progressive realisation of human rights more effectively than their marginalisation would.

However, in some cases, it may be that a country’s membership should be postponed until it can show improvement in a deplorable record. Leading up to the election, Human Rights Watch campaigned against promoting the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the council due to its grave human rights violations.

Meanwhile, the US warned it may withdraw if the council continued to elect countries responsible for gross abuses.

Australia is not in this category. It aspires to be an exemplary member of the council. And its election should act as impetus for progressive gains in its human rights performance.

The value of Australia’s election for human rights

Human rights advocates will take the opportunity to draw attention to any gaps between Australia’s international legal obligations and its domestic practices.

Bishop was right to highlight the value of Australia becoming the first Pacific country to join the council. Strong diplomatic and trade relationships will hopefully enable Australia to influence human rights development in its region. It is the only place without a regional human rights treaty or institution.

An important focus in this context will be Australia’s advocacy for the abolition of capital punishment. Allied to that concern for the right to life, perhaps Australia might also consider lobbying other countries – notably the US – for gun laws that prioritise human life and wellbeing.

Australia could substantially increase the legitimacy of such efforts, though, by working to build adequate domestic human rights architecture. Without federal human rights legislation, Australia cannot demonstrate the social and legal value of building human rights protections into law.

Australia’s election also calls for a renewal of political commitment to the value of international human rights review processes. Recent years have seen expressions of frustration, dismissal and poor faith that undermine Australia’s strong record of commitment to international human rights treaties.

Nowhere was this troubling attitude toward human rights protection more clear than in efforts to tarnish the reputation and work of former Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.

Such mixed messages sit poorly with Australia’s continued efforts to review the practices of other countries – particularly now that it has an official role on the Human Rights Council.


Further reading: Why does international condemnation on human rights mean so little to Australia?


Australia has claimed leadership in the areas of gender equality, good governance, freedom of expression, the rights of Indigenous people, and strong national human rights institutions.

Imperfect performance in these areas indicates key targets for immediate focus – for example through human-rights-informed approaches to gendered violence, and concern for limitations on the freedom to express views about politically sensitive matters.

Considerable progress will be required on the rights of Indigenous people for Australia to claim success on that key pillar of its council campaign. The federal government could look to progress on a treaty in Victoria as evidence that such a conversation can be inclusive and productive.

The ConversationImportantly, Australia must also be held accountable in the key area its bid sought to avoid: the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Its election provides an ideal opportunity for Australia to show leadership and commitment to durable regional and global responses to refugee flows.

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle and Georgia Monaghan, Research Assistant, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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New Zealand’s first-past-the-post ‘hangover’ could limit coalition options


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Bill English’s National Party got 46% of the vote, but needs a coalition partner to form the next government.
Reuters/Nigel Marple, CC BY-ND

Pii-Tuulia Nikula, Eastern Institute of Technology and Nicholas R. Smith

Last weekend’s New Zealand election didn’t deliver a clear majority for either of the two major parties (National and Labour). The final outcome will ultimately come down to the decision of minor populist party New Zealand First (NZF).

The only realistic choices for a coalition are a centre-right-leaning National-NZF coalition or a centre-left-leaning Labour-Green-NZF coalition.

Why is a National-Labour grand coalition seen as unthinkable? Despite 20 years of a mixed member proportional (MMP) electoral system, New Zealand’s politicians still struggle with compromise and co-operation.

A nascent multiparty democracy

Straight after the election, the Green Party ruled out a coalition with the centre-right National Party, purely on ideological grounds.

Contrast this with Germany, which held general elections a day after New Zealand. Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) immediately entered coalition talks with the left-leaning Green Party and the right-liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

New Zealand’s reluctance to form pragmatic coalitions can be explained by its democratic history. Until 1996, New Zealand had a simple first-past-the-post system, with one vote for a candidate in a specific electorate. Democracies using this tend to have de facto two-party systems, often entrenching ideological partisanship on the left and right.


Read more: New Zealand elections: same, same, but very different


New Zealand’s 1996 election marked a new epoch of electoral democracy. Through a referendum in 1993, New Zealanders chose the MMP system. Two votes are cast: one for a party and one for an electorate candidate. Seats in parliament are assigned by total percentage of the party vote, not by how many electorates a party wins.

However, electorate wins are important for minor parties that finish under the 5% party vote threshold.

Unlike first-past-the-post, proportional representation systems like MMP usually produce multi-partyism. The presence of more parties in parliament necessitates coalition-building.

In the New Zealand context, no party has won an absolute majority in any of the seven elections since MMP was introduced.

New Zealand’s first-past-the-post hangover

However, New Zealand seems to have a first-past-the-post hangover. In a recent online poll, the prospect of a National-Labour grand coalition was considered “absurd” by 61% of respondents. The same poll observed a clear ideological division between National and the smaller Green Party.


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Internationally, most countries with a longer history of proportional representation have tended to be less polarised than New Zealand when it comes to coalition-building.

Germany, which introduced a proportional electoral system in 1947, has had significant experience in multi-party co-operation. From 2005 to its recent election, a grand coalition between the two largest parties, the centre-right CDU and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP), governed Germany.

While numerous hypothetical coalition marriages are perceived as absurd in New Zealand, few coalition arrangements are out of the question in Germany. One notable exception is the CDU working with anti-establishment right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland, which will enter the Bundestag for the first time this year.

The most likely outcome in Germany’s 2017 elections seems to be a “Jamaica coalition” option, involving Merkel’s CDU (which collected the most votes) with the Greens and the FDP.

Tackling New Zealand’s democratic division

In the New Zealand context, the Jamaica coalition would be akin to National forming a coalition with the Green and ACT parties. However, the Green Party unequivocally ruled out entering a governing coalition with National.

While remaining truthful to a party’s ideological convictions is commendable, it can also keep the party out of power and unable to achieve its policy goals.

Unlike the Green Party, the Māori Party (which lost its place in parliament in this election) previously opted for a more pragmatic approach. It partnered with National in three successive governments. This “deal with the devil” enabled the party to secure concessions such as the Whānau Ora health initiative.

Winston Peters (standing), the leader of New Zealand First, watches the election results.
AAP/Karen Sweeney, CC BY-ND

Ultimately, the MMP system is only as good as the underpinning democratic culture. New Zealand’s democratic culture seems to struggle with compromise and co-operation. Such limited coalition arrangements give too much power to a smaller party such as NZF, making it the unmandated “kingmaker” in coalition negotiations.

New Zealand in 2017 is a country with many divisions – generational, class, urban-rural, colonial, ethnic and educational – and seemingly few political options to bridge them.

One answer to New Zealand’s lacking political co-operation – beyond more superficial changes like lowering the 5% threshold – could lie in reducing its overwhelming reliance on elections as the main mechanism of political participation.

Elections are naturally divisive events. What is often drowned out in the cacophony of campaign slogans and character assassinations is genuine policy deliberation by the demos.

The ConversationFinding ways to bring deliberation to the fore – perhaps through introducing citizens’ juries – would be an incremental approach to moving politics towards co-operation and compromise, and away from zero-sum partisanship.

Pii-Tuulia Nikula, Lecturer in Politics, Eastern Institute of Technology and Nicholas R. Smith, Postdoctoral Fellow, National Centre for Research on Europe

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

ReachTEL: One Nation voters prefer Abbott to Turnbull by over 3:1


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A ReachTEL poll for Sky News, conducted Thursday from a sample of 2390, has Labor leading by 52-48, a one point gain for the Coalition since the previous Sky News ReachTEL, just after the May budget. Assuming the 7.1% undecided are excluded, primary votes are 36.5% Coalition (down 1.3), 35.6% Labor (up 1.4), 10.3% Greens (steady) and 9.8% One Nation (down 0.4).

The primary vote changes suggest Labor should have gained after preferences, but ReachTEL is using respondent allocated preferences. According to Kevin Bonham, using previous election preferences, Labor leads by 52.8-47.2, a 1.3 point gain for Labor since the previous ReachTEL.

At the 2016 election, One Nation preferences split almost 50-50 between the two major parties. However, this poll has evidence that One Nation is now attracting the hard right of the Coalition, and thus that their preferences will be more Coalition-friendly at the next election.

Turnbull is preferred as Liberal leader to Tony Abbott by 68-32, with Coalition voters favouring Turnbull 73-27. However, One Nation voters prefer Abbott by a massive 77-23. It appears that as Turnbull has become more centrist over the last two months, the hard right has moved towards One Nation.

In ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM question, Turnbull leads by 54-46, a two point gain for Turnbull since the May Channel 7 ReachTEL. Same sex marriage is supported by 62-26, with 59% in favour of a plebiscite to decide the issue, while 41% prefer a parliamentary vote. 64% thought penalty rates should be higher on Sunday than Saturday.

Essential 52-48 to Labor, YouGov 51-49 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, primary votes were 39% Coalition, 36% Labor, 10% Greens, 7% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. After surging to 9% last week, One Nation’s vote has fallen back. This poll was conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1790. Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

Turnbull’s attributes were relatively unchanged since February, while Shorten’s were a little worse. Turnbull had double digit leads over Shorten on “intelligent”, “capable leader” and “good in a crisis”, but also on “out of touch” and “arrogant”.

By 79-6, voters supported the proposition that politicians should publicly disclose meetings with lobbyists, and by 78-5 they supported continuous reporting of political donations. Over 60% were in favour of bans on foreign donations, donations of over $5,000 and company and union donations. However by 46-30, voters opposed a complete ban on donations, with all political campaigning taxpayer-funded.

UK pollster YouGov has entered the Australian market. Polling will be conducted every fortnight from Thursday to Tuesday by online methods with a sample over 1000. The first YouGov poll, conducted from 22 to 27 June from a sample of 1125, has Labor leading by 51-49. Primary votes are 34% Labor, 33% Coalition, 12% Greens, 7% One Nation, 4% Christian parties and 3% NIck Xenophon Team.

Labor’s narrow two party lead was obtained using respondent-allocated preferences. Using the previous election method, Labor would lead 54-46. Christian parties are not included in the readout in any other poll, and it is likely that most of them are Liberals.

Victoria and ACT to gain seats, while SA loses a seat

On 31 August, the Electoral Commission will determine the number of House seats each state and territory is entitled to, based on the latest population figures.

The 2016 Census was released on 27 June. As a result, according to the parliamentary library, SA’s seats will be reduced by one to 10, while Victoria and the ACT will both gain one seat, to 38 and 3 seats respectively. Other states are unchanged, with NSW entitled to 47 seats, Queensland 30, WA 16, Tasmania 5 and the NT 2. Overall, the House will have 151 members after the next Federal election, up from the current 150.

Labor easily won both ACT seats at the 2016 election, so the creation of a third seat is good news for them. The political effect of redistributions in Victoria and SA will not be known until draft boundaries are released.

If an election is called before the redistributions are finalised, special arrangements are used to create or merge seats. These arrangements have never been used.

Tasmania should have only three House seats, but is entitled to five as this is the minimum entitlement for any of the six original states. As Tasmania has tended to give better results for Labor than the mainland, this malapportionment favours Labor.

More UK post-election analysis

The Guardian has analysis of a post-election study from pollster Ipsos Mori. In terms of swing from the 2015 election, the Conservatives performed best among demographics where the UK Independence Party (UKIP) had its highest vote shares in 2015: these demographics included those aged over 65 and lower social classes.

The Conservatives have adopted UKIP’s populist agenda regarding Brexit, and right-wing populism explains some of the swing to the Conservatives among demographics that were most likely to vote for UKIP and Leave at the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Labour performed best in swing terms among voters aged 18-44 and higher social classes. UKIP had low 2015 vote shares among these demographics. Although Jeremy Corbyn’s radical left-wing policies were also important in winning over young people, Labour’s unexpectedly strong performance can be seen as a rejection of right-wing populism among demographics that voted Remain at the Brexit referendum.

The swing to Labour in higher social classes, and the swing to the Conservatives in lower classes, has meant that the Conservatives narrowly won the top three classes, and Labour narrowly won the fourth class. At previous elections, there has been a far greater difference in party support by class.

On 26 June, the Conservatives committed to spend an additional £1 billion (about $AU 1.7 billion) on Northern Ireland (NI) in return for support on important Commons votes from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The ConversationDuring the election campaign, PM Theresa May told a nurse who had had no wage increases for eight years, “There isn’t a magic money tree we can shake”. Every time the Conservatives now say there is no money for schools, hospitals, public sector wage increases, etc, people will remember the £1 billion “magic money tree” for NI.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: It’s a year since Turnbull won his first election, but what about a second?



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Malcolm Turnbull broke out his leather jacket this week and tried to shrug off the tensions consuming his party.
Jennifer Rajca/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An admission. When I heard people raising the “transaction costs” after Tony Abbott was deposed by Malcolm Turnbull, I thought they were exaggerating. Surely these couldn’t be too high, given the relative popularity levels of the two.

Nearly two years on, when the Coalition is lagging badly in the polls and many Liberals – albeit way out from an election – already see opposition looming, those costs are there in spades, in the form of a deeply vengeful Abbott, bent on wrecking his successor; a party at war internally, and speculation being fanned about whether its leader will last to the election.

It’s just a year on Sunday since Turnbull narrowly won the election, but the fear of defeat is strong.

Former Queensland premier Campbell Newman, who spectacularly lost office in one term from a massive majority, has a credibility problem in commenting on what leaders should do. Nevertheless, his call this week for Turnbull to stand down is just another unhelpful piece of flotsam for the Liberals.

“He can’t be deposed – we can’t have another execution,” Newman said. But Turnbull was “dividing the Liberal Party”, what he’d tried wasn’t working, and he should “do the right thing” and quit.

Like most other people in the community, politicians are more impatient than they used to be. So parties are even less willing than once to contemplate losing office.

A period out of power would be painful, no question. The Liberals would soul-search to define the identity of the party they wanted to go into the 2020s.

A new generation would take over, replacing top players of the last decade – Turnbull, Abbott and Julie Bishop. The Nationals might possibly break out of a coalition relationship with the Liberals.

For a Liberal Party that thinks office is its natural home, this would be like facing a nasty spell in hospital to repair severely broken bones. One comfort, perhaps, would be that the febrile nature of today’s politics means government is never too far away. Kevin Rudd won handsomely in 2007; Abbott almost became prime minister at the following election. Abbott swept into power in 2013; Turnbull nearly lost in 2016.

As this year ebbs away, Turnbull’s hold on the leadership will become more precarious if there is no lift in those relentless Newspolls.

But a problem for the party and an insurance for Turnbull is that of the possible alternatives – Bishop, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison, a resurrected Abbott – there is no one who’d obviously do any better. And given that we may be talking about “saving the furniture”, like Rudd did in 2013, who would want to be the one to lead to a loss?

Just say Turnbull, facing a rout, did decide (much later) to do what Newman says he should do now. Who’d benefit by getting a poisoned chalice?

Bishop? To end a sparkling career by leading to a likely defeat?

Dutton? In recent times, especially since Morrison’s sheen disappeared, Dutton has been talked up as a future leader. But lose an election, perhaps in a landslide, and it would be hard to hang onto the leadership in opposition.

The same applies to Morrison, even if he could get the party room numbers.

That leaves Abbott. Peta Credlin, his confidant and former chief-of-staff, said this week he “actually doesn’t want the job of prime minister”. Unlikely as this seems, that assessment is corroborated by another source.

The thing about Abbott, however, is that he can take one view one day and the opposite the next. If there was half a chance to put on the boxing gloves, he wouldn’t care too much about facing defeat. He’d feel vindicated, and relish the fight.

Don’t lay any money on such a scenario. It’s just one of many long shots in an unfolding story.

Meanwhile, Abbott is said to be in good spirits, as he’s been a centre of attention this week, with a speech articulating his broad agenda, followed by one calling for Australia to consider acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.

Once again, as is his wont, he went back on a position he took in government. “Not more robustly challenging the nuclear no-go mindset is probably the biggest regret I have from my time as PM,” he said.

The submarine speech saw him wading into the portfolio of Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, who has had a nightmare week.

As the dust settles, one legacy question will be how much damage Pyne has done himself with his foolish boasting about the moderates’ power and the prospects for the earlier-than-expected delivery of same-sex marriage – comments which, when leaked, sparked such a damaging furore.

Pyne traditionally has had a heavy coating of teflon. His ministerial performance during this government has been lacklustre: in education, he failed to deliver his tertiary package; he was in and out of the innovation job in a flash, and the most talked-about feature of his period so far in his present post has been his covetous eye on the Defence job held by fellow moderate Marise Payne.

As he said in last Friday’s speech to the “Black Hand” moderates’ function, he’s always voted for Turnbull. But he managed to crack Abbott’s inner circle, before climbing on board with the Turnbull coup.

Pyne’s ambition is the deputy leadership – which would allow him to move into foreign affairs.

The ConversationBefore this week, he might have thought himself well placed, for example, to be deputy to Dutton in opposition. Now he has suffered a lot of reputational damage. But he has considerable powers of regeneration, and the thickest of skins. When some years ago he was featured in a Good Weekend profile with the cover asking “Is this the most annoying man in Australia?”, he was reportedly delighted.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Conservatives suffer shock loss of majority at UK general election


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At the UK general election held Thursday, the Conservatives lost their majority. With all 650 seats declared, the Conservatives won 318 seats (down 13 since the 2015 election), Labour 262 (up 30), the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) 35 (down 21), the Liberal Democrats 12 (up 4). Northern Ireland (NI) parties hold 18 seats and five went to the Welsh nationalists and Greens.

Vote shares were 42.4% for the Conservatives (up 5.5), 40.0% for Labour (up 9.5), 7.4% for the Lib Dems (down 0.5) and 3.0% for the SNP (down 1.7). This was Labour’s highest vote since 2001, and the Conservatives’ highest vote since 1983. The total major party vote share was the highest since 1970. Election turnout was 68.7% (up 2.3 from 2015, and the highest turnout since 1997).

In NI, the very socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won 10 of the 18 seats on 0.9% of the UK-wide vote. As Sinn Fein, which won 7 seats in NI, will not take its seats owing to historical opposition to the UK government’s rule of NI, the DUP and Conservatives have enough seats for a majority. PM Theresa May has come to an arrangement with the DUP, and the Conservatives will continue to govern.

The tweet and pictures of the right wing Daily Mail below show how shocking this result was. When Theresa May called the election, the Conservatives had a 15-19 point poll lead over Labour.

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While the Conservatives lost many seats to Labour and the Liberal Democrats in England and Wales, they gained 12 seats in Scotland. The overall Scotland results were SNP 35 of 59 seats (down 21), Conservatives 13 (up 12), Labour 7 (up 6) and Lib Dems 4 (up 3).

If the Conservatives had not performed so well in Scotland, it is likely that a progressive alliance of Labour, SNP and Lib Dems would have taken power. The Conservatives’ 13 Scottish seats are their most in Scotland since 1983.

There were several reasons for the Conservatives’ shocking performance. First, Labour’s manifesto had many popular measures, while the Conservative manifesto had a highly controversial proposal.

Second, US President Donald Trump is very unpopular in much of the developed world. Even if Trump had kept out of the way, there would probably have still been a “Trump Factor” in Labour’s rise. But Trump exacerbated this hatred by withdrawing from the Paris agreement a week before the election, and then by attacking the Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, after the London terror attack. The lesson for mainstream conservative parties is: keep your distance from Trump.

Third, I believe the Conservatives focused too much on Brexit in their campaign. The Brexit question was decided last year, and it probably did not have a great impact on voting. In my opinion, the Conservative campaign should have focused on the economy.

Conservatives win elections when in government by claiming that the opposition will wreck the economy through its reckless spending and increased taxation. The Conservatives should have focused on this message, and not on Brexit.

After beginning the campaign as a massive underdog, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation has been greatly enhanced. Virtually all commentators assumed that radical left wing politics could never work, but he has proved them wrong. If not for the Scottish Conservative gains, Corbyn would probably be PM.

The best pollsters at this election were Survation, with a one-point Conservative lead, and SurveyMonkey, with a four-point lead (actual result 2.4 points). Other pollsters “herded” their final polls towards a 7-8 point lead. The worst results were from ComRes (a 10-point lead), ICM (12 points) and BMG (13 points). These three pollsters made large adjustments to their raw votes, and ended up overcompensating for the 2015 polling errors.

French lower house elections: 11 and 18 June

The French lower house has 577 members, elected by single-member electorates using a two-round system. The top two candidates in each seat, and any other candidate who wins over 12.5% of registered voters, qualify for the second round. Candidates sometimes withdraw before the second round to give their broad faction a better chance, and/or to stop an extremist party like Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

The key question is whether President Emmanuel Macron’s REM party will win a majority. Polling has the REM on about 30%, the conservative Les Républicains on 21%, the National Front on 18%, the hard left Unsubmissive France on 13% and the Socialists and Greens on a combined 11%.

The ConversationThere has been little movement in the polls since I last discussed the French lower house elections ten days ago. If the current polls are accurate, the REM will easily win a majority of the French lower house after the second round vote on 18 June. Polls for both the first and second round close at 4am Monday Melbourne time.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Rise of ‘anti-politics’ produces surprise result in the UK election – and it’s playing a role in Australia, too



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Theresa May’s gamble on calling an early election has not paid off.
Reuters/Toby Melville

Brenton Prosser, Australian National University and Gerry Stoker, University of Canberra

A little over a week before the 2017 UK general election, the improbable occurred. A poll indicated that Prime Minister Theresa May could lose the Conservative majority. The shadow of a hung parliament was cast over the UK parliament again. It was a claim credible enough to the markets for the sterling to drop. Most political analysts, however, did not take it seriously.

But these are unconventional times. There is an unlikely president in the White House. No pundit predicted Brexit. And now, a Labour Party led by an “anti-politician” in Jeremy Corbyn has delivered a hung parliament.

While Theresa May will soon be on her way to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen’s permission to form minority government, the unlikelihood of a stable coalition government means Britons may be heading back to the polls much sooner than they expected.

A win for anti-politics?

“Anti-politics” is often used to describe:

  • a growing distrust of career politicians;

  • hatred of partisan politics; and

  • disaffection with democracy.

Among its causes is complacency in rich Western nations, as well as disinterest in institutions (especially from the young). Many see anti-politics as a tide sweeping away much that was previously taken for granted.

According to leading UK scholars, anti-politics is not a democratic de-alignment as much as the result of political realignment. In other words, it is not that we are turning off democracy – but that we are turning away from political elites and major party politics.

A recent Australian survey found righteous indignation among its citizens. This anger is directed at parties and politicians who are swayed by the quest for power and seem to break promises without impunity.

One of the significant lessons from the 2017 UK poll is that “anti-politics” voters are no longer welded on to any one party. There is growing volatility in the UK electorate. In the 1960s, less than 10% of voters changed their allegiance between elections. In yesterday’s poll it was closer to 40%.

Thanks to anti-politics, gone are the days when voters supported a political party in the way they might support the family football team.

But how then do we explain the strongest combined major party vote for two decades (Conservative 43 / Labour 40)? Does this suggest a return to two-party politics?

No, because one side – Labour – was playing anti-politics.

Corbyn’s success in context

There is no doubt that no-one expected the dramatic growth in the Labour vote. But there are two stories to tell.

First, the support for Corbyn came against economic and political convention. Labour focused on larger cities and university towns, targeting students, service industries and the public sector. It promised to end austerity, nationalise utilities, increase taxes, and invest heavily in public services. It was an anti-political appeal.

Second, the Labour vote was a big enough to hamper the Conservatives, but not much more.

Despite Labour’s celebration over approximately 30 seats, the 2017 result is only eight seats more than when it lost power in 2010. The reality is that Labour is little closer to the 60-plus seats it needs for power than it was last week. What will make this a potentially insurmountable gap is an unacknowledged divide in the UK electorate.

A deeper UK divide

Recently, UK researchers analysed the 2015 UK election results. They found that anti-politics attitudes spread across all voter groups. But what was really challenging for parties was not a traditional split along class lines, but a growing “bifurcation” in the vote of cosmopolitan and provincial England.

Cosmopolitan voters had benefited more from globalisation, were more outward-looking, pluralist and open to the EU. In contrast, those in provincial regions of economic decline were more inward-looking, illiberal, and negative toward immigration.

Perhaps there are no great surprises here. But what is interesting is that this division had real effects that challenged political parties. In other words, these shifts made it harder for larger parties to develop a platform that spans these “two Englands”.

In 2015, this resulted in cosmopolitan votes for Labour and the Greens. It saw provincial support for UKIP and an element of both for the Conservatives.

This suggests that the Conservatives’ 2015 success was due to being more adept at targeting appeals to both cosmopolitan and provisional electorates, while being more pragmatic around taking nationally consistent positions.

What happened in the 2017 general election?

While the Conservatives won 5.5% more of the vote (but lost a dozen seats), Labour won a 7% swing in cosmopolitan areas that had voted Conservative and “Remain”. While participation was up 2.6% overall (up from 66.1% in 2015), it rose by over 5% in seats Labour won.

On the back of record youth enrolment to vote, Labour surged in the youth vote in cosmopolitan areas. Meanwhile, Conservative London cosmopolitan seats changed hands, while Labour won university seats like Sheffield Hallam from the Liberal Democrats.

Yet the challenge for Labour remains. Its wins were cosmopolitan, with little progress in the provincial areas that it needs for a majority in the future.

Meanwhile, the Conservative appeal to provincial England through an emphasis on Brexit and bringing down net migration were successfully targeted at a collapsing UKIP and winning some SNP seats. But it compromised the Tories’ cosmopolitan wins from 2015.

Here lies the challenge for all large party leaders: how do they connect with prevailing moods in both cosmopolitan and provincial areas when they diverge in such opposite directions?

What might this mean for Australia?

It is not unreasonable to suggest Australia may be seeing its own version of the “bifurcation” challenge.

Australian demographer Bernard Salt has already identified a tale of two nations. And as Ken Henry recently observed, the Australian population continues to grow beyond the capacity of existing capital cities and puts pressure on economic performance and infrastructure planning. This can only contribute to “two Australias” that are divided by geography, economic opportunity and even identity.

Meanwhile, some states (hit hard by globalisation) have turned to provincial, protectionist and issue-based politicians. And, as national votes become harder to span, the notion of slim majority as mandate will become even more problematic.

Many argue that former prime minister John Howard’s ability to win traditional Labor voters was at the heart of his sustained electoral success.

The ConversationHowever, the challenge for today’s Australian leaders is more complex than it was during the Howard era. Not only must they manage competing ideologies in their parties and span diverging nations, they must also respond to a volatile electorate that is decidedly “anti-politics”.

Brenton Prosser, Senior Fellow, Australian National University and Gerry Stoker, Fellow and Centenary Professor, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As Britain reels from another terror attack, political leaders wobble towards an election


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Floral tributes near an an anti-Islamic State poster near Borough market, London.
AAP/Andy Rain

Jim Middleton, University of Melbourne

Legitimate questions certainly arise from the weekend outrage in London, but they are not those immediately provoked by Pauline Hanson or Donald Trump.

The US president’s impetuous reaction was to tweet that the attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market proved that American courts should “give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” Note the exemplary use of the exclamation mark. However, Trump did have the grace eight minutes later to offer a form of condolence to the British people – “WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!”

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The capitals presumably mean either that he was shouting or that he really means it. Not so the One Nation leader, who chose to use Twitter to desecrate the warning from the British authorities for people to “run, hide and tell” by declaring that it was time to “stop Islamic immigration before it is too late”.

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Labor’s Penny Wong rightly declared Hanson’s eructation “irresponsible and crass”. One of Australia’s foremost counter-terrorism experts, Greg Barton of Deakin University, went further, telling me that what the One Nation leader was saying was “downright dangerous” on at least two counts.

One, in this age of postmodern terrorism, Islamic State operates as the first metaphysical nation with no dependence on physical territory or traditional communication to wield its power. In that environment, the security authorities rely on tips from the communities from which impressionable operatives emerge.

Maligning those very communities, Barton says, tends to make its members turn inward, reducing their trust in the authorities and diminishing the likelihood that they will report the wayward behaviour of people they know. Witness the bizarre spectacle of the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, praying loudly in the street.

Second, it encourages the very sense of alienation, the feeling that they are stigmatised outsiders, that leads people to lose their sense of belonging. That makes them more vulnerable to the brutal siren call of murderous extremists.

Hanson either does not know this or does not care, because it is likely that her anti-Muslim message, basically a reworking of her initial hostility to Aborigines and then to Asians, appeals to much of One Nation’s base. What more would you expect from a person who over two decades has used the public purse to turn politics into a highly successful small business?

There are legitimate questions, though, about this latest attack in the UK, the third in as many months. One is whether Britain has a peculiar problem when it comes to these apparently autonomous acts of ghastly violence. The other is whether the London Bridge/Borough Market attack had anything to do with the UK election, now only days away.

The answer to the latter is probably not. As Barton points out, if the perpetrators had wanted to influence voters, they or their sponsors would have made a statement to that effect in some form, either direct or allusive.

That is not to say that the violence of Saturday night won’t affect the result of Thursday’s poll. Conventional analysis has it that assaults on security tend to favour the incumbent, especially if they are from the centre right.

Theresa May’s Tories consistently poll as “better for” national security than Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. But this has not been a conventional UK election campaign and there are also questions about whether a sense may take root within the electorate that the government is failing to protect the community, following two fatal acts of terrorism in just a fortnight – Manchester and now London. May was, after all, home secretary, responsible for domestic security, for six years before she became prime minister.

She has not had a good election. Gone are the days, less than two months ago, when it looked as if she could gain a majority of 100 in the House of Commons, knocking Corbyn for six. Her refusal to engage with Corbyn was seen as arrogant, and UK voters are sick of going to the polls (three times in less than two years). There was also her blunder on a “dementia” tax, essentially a proposal to make the elderly contribute to their health care if they have combined assets of more than £100,000.

Immediate public outcry forced a U-turn, but the damage had been done. As campaign managers would say, May had gone “off-message”. The election was no longer a plebiscite on her managing of Brexit, but an argument about health and welfare, traditional Labour turf.

It was a surprising mistake, especially given that as a political up-and-comer May warned the Conservatives back in 2002 that it had become the “nasty party”. Its base was “too narrow” and on occasion so were its sympathies, a sermon this child of the manse had clearly forgotten delivering.

On the question of security, the message from the voters is decidedly mixed. In the wake of the Manchester attack Corbyn boldly, but deliberately, stated:

Many … professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported … and terrorism here at home.

From the G7 summit, May went thermonuclear:

I have been here with the G7, working with other international leaders to fight terrorism. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault.

Corbyn was “not up to the job”, she said. He also faced criticism from within his own ranks, but it seems May’s decision to play the security card was not as effective as she might have hoped, because the opinion polls continued to tighten in Labour’s favour.

None of this means May will lose when the votes come in on Thursday. Rather, it shows that national security is a more complex issue in the UK these days, after a decade and a half of unpopular wars and years punctuated by regular, fatal terrorist attacks.

The ConversationIt is not clear whether the story is the same in either the United States or Australia. It is possible this is one way the UK is grimly unique.

Jim Middleton, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Anti-Trump backlash at US by-elections


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Today, a by-election was held in Kansas’ fourth Congressional District (CD) for election to the US House. This CD is very conservative, and voted for Donald Trump by 60-33 against Hillary Clinton at the 2016 election. At this by-election, the Republican prevailed by 53-46, a net improvement of 20 points for the Democrats from Trump’s margin in 2016. The Conversation

The Kansas result is not the only poor outcome for Republicans. A by-election was held in California’s 34th CD last Tuesday. This is a Democratic fortress, which Clinton won by 84-11. This by-election used a “jungle primary”, where candidates from the same party, and those from other parties, run on the one ballot paper. Unless one candidate wins a vote majority, the top two, regardless of party, proceed to a runoff.

As California’s 34th CD is a Democratic bastion, about 20 Democrats and only one Republican ran, and the top six vote winners were Democrats. The sole Republican won a risible 3.2% of the votes, well down from Trump’s 11%. The top two candidates, both Democrats, will proceed to a 6 June runoff.

While party control did not change in either by-election, the swing from Trump to the Democratic candidates is encouraging for the Democrats, and indicates that the November 2018 midterm elections could be good for the Democrats.

Next Tuesday (results Wednesday morning Melbourne time), a “jungle primary” by-election will be held in Georgia’s Republican-held sixth CD. The lead Democrat, Jon Ossoff, has a chance to win a vote majority, and thus avoid a runoff against a single Republican. This CD voted for Trump by a 48.3-46.8 margin.

Trump’s ratings in FiveThirtyEight’s poll tracker are currently 52.5% disapprove, 41.5% approve for a net of -11. After dropping briefly below 40% following the health care debacle, his ratings have recovered a point or two after the Syrian missile strike.

Daily Kos elections has calculated the Presidential results for all 435 CDs. Presidential results by CD are not generally published by election boards, and need to be calculated from each county’s precinct information.

Republicans change rules to get Gorsuch confirmed to US Supreme Court

On Friday, staunch conservative judge Neil Gorsuch won a confirmation vote in the US Senate, 54-45, and will now be a Supreme Court Justice. Gorsuch replaces Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016, restoring a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch is aged 49, so he could be on the Court for the next 30 years, delivering conservative verdicts.

Barack Obama had nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia, but the Republicans, who controlled the Senate, had refused to even grant Garland a hearing, arguing that Obama’s successor should select the next Supreme Court nominee. When Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, this strategy was vindicated.

Under Senate rules, Democrats could have filibustered Gorsuch’s confirmation. For a filibuster to be defeated, 3/5 of the Senate (60 Senators) are required to vote for cloture. With Republicans only holding a 52-48 Senate majority, a Democratic filibuster of Gorsuch would have succeeded.

However, the filibuster rule has never been part of the US Constitution, and a Senate majority can change the Senate’s rules. On Thursday, Republicans used the “nuclear” option, removing the ability of a minority to filibuster Supreme Court confirmations in a 52-48 party-line vote.

Democrats themselves had used the nuclear option to remove the ability of a minority to filibuster lower court and Cabinet confirmations in 2013. The filibuster now only exists for legislation, and that filibuster is likely to be abolished in the near future.

French Presidential election: hard left Melenchon surges

The French Presidential election will be held in two rounds. The first round is on 23 April, and the top two vote winners proceed to the second round on 7 May.

Current polls have the centrist Emmanuel Macron and far right Marine Le Pen tied at 23%, followed by conservative Francois Fillon on 19% and the hard left Jean-Luc Melenchon on 18%. A few weeks ago, Melenchon had just 10% support. His gains have come mainly at the expense of Socialist Benoit Hamon, who has fallen into single digits.

Many on the French left have been frustrated with the current Socialist government’s pro-business agenda, which Macron would continue. In contrast, Melenchon’s policies include a 100% tax on the part of any income over 360,000 Euros a year (about $AU 500,000).

If Macron makes the runoff against any of the other three contenders, he should win easily. While still unlikely, it is possible that Macron could be knocked out of the runoff. If this happens, there would be two candidates that most voters would probably object to, and the runoff would not be predictable.

NSW by-elections: Liberals suffer large swings, but hold their seats

On Saturday, by-elections occurred in the Liberal-held seats of Manly and North Shore, and the Labor-held seat of Gosford. Manly and North Shore became vacant following the retirements of former Premier Mike Baird and Health Minister Jillian Skinner, while Gosford’s vacancy was caused by a cancer diagnosis for its former member, Kathy Smith.

Labor easily held Gosford by 62.5-37.5 vs the Liberals, a 12.3 point swing to Labor from the 2015 election. The Liberals suffered a 24 point primary vote swing against them in Manly and a 15 point swing in North Shore, which Labor did not contest, but held both seats against Independent challengers. Vote shares in both these seats were 43-44% for the Liberals, 22-24% for the main Independent challenger and 16-18% for the Greens.

A Liberal vs Independent two candidate count in North Shore and Manly is not yet available, but Antony Green expects comfortable Liberal wins, especially given NSW’s optional preferential voting. Update Thursday afternoon: The Liberals won North Shore by 54.7-45.3 and Manly by 60.5-39.5

A NSW Newspoll, taken from February to March from a sample of 1580, had the Coalition leading by 51-49, unchanged from November to December 2016. Primary votes were Coalition 40% (down 1), Labor 34% (down 2), Greens 10% (down 1) and One Nation 8%. Premier Gladys Berejiklian had initial ratings of 44% satisfied and 21% dissatisfied, while Opposition Leader Luke Foley’s net approval was up 2 points to -4.

The 2015 NSW election result was 54.4-45.6 to the Coalition, so Newspoll implies a 3 point swing against the Coalition. The by-election results suggest a larger swing, but by-elections are not good guides to general elections. Governments usually do badly at by-elections because people are inclined to vote against the government, knowing that such a vote will not change the government.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor romps to landslide win in WA election


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With 67% of enrolled voters counted in yesterday’s Western Australian election, the ABC’s election computer was giving Labor 36 of the 59 lower house seats, to 11 Liberals and 5 Nationals. Of the seven doubtful seats, I expect the Liberals to overtake narrow current Labor leads in two seats on late counting. If that happens, Labor will win 38 seats to 21 for the Liberals and Nationals, a reversal of the 2013 result (38 Liberal/Nationals, 21 Labor). The Conversation

Primary vote shares were 42.8% for Labor (up 9.7 points since the 2013 election), 31.4% for the Liberals (down a massive 15.7 points), 5.4% for the Nationals (down 0.7), 8.5% for the Greens (up 0.1), a disappointing 4.7% for One Nation and 7.2% for all Others (up 1.9). As post-election day votes are processed, I expect Labor’s share to drop slightly, and the Liberals and Greens to slightly improve.

No statewide two party result has been provided by the Electoral Commission, and this will not be known until after all other results are finalised.

At the time of One Nation’s last peak from 1998-2001, they won 9.6% at the 2001 WA election. After polling in the 12-13% range early in the campaign, One Nation’s vote slumped to 7-9% in the final polls. Polls may have overestimated One Nation as they were only standing in 35 of 59 lower house seats.

There were two reasons for One Nation’s loss of support late in the campaign. First, the preference deal with the Liberals damaged their brand: it is hard to be an anti-establishment party if you deal with an established major party. Second, One Nation’s policies received more exposure in the closing days, causing some One Nation supporters who disagreed with the party’s far right agenda to desert.

The preference deal with One Nation also had dire consequences for the Liberals. While the Liberals were behind prior to the deal, it did not appear that Labor would win a landslide before the deal was announced. The fallout from this deal will mean that the Coalition parties and One Nation, in other states and federally, will be more reluctant to trade preferences.

Barnett was deeply unpopular, WA’s economy was weak, and the unpopular Federal government was a drag. These factors made a Labor win probable, but the deal with One Nation probably exacerbated the Liberals’ losses.

This will be Labor’s first true landslide in any state or federally since 2006, when Labor had landslide wins in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. By “landslide”, I mean not just defeating the opposition, but thrashing them in both seat and vote terms. That Labor won a big victory in the most conservative state at Federal level will make it even sweeter for them.

Polling appears to have underestimated the Greens and Labor’s primary votes a little, and overestimated One Nation. Galaxy and Newspoll had the Liberals and Nationals about right, but ReachTEL overestimated their vote.

Fluoride Free could win a seat in WA upper house

While 67% of enrolled voters for the lower house have been tallied, only 47% has been counted in the upper house. The WA upper house is severely malapportioned, and still uses the group voting ticket system that was abolished in the Senate.

Using the group voting tickets, the ABC is currently predicting Labor to win 15 of 36 upper house seats (up 4 since 2013), the Liberals 9 (down 8), the Nationals 4 (down 1), the Greens 3 (up 1), Shooters 2 (up 1) and One Nation, Liberal Democrats and Fluoride Free are currently predicted to win one seat each.

The ABC currently gives one seat to Daylight Saving, but Kevin Bonham spotted an error. The Daylight Saving candidate in Mining and Pastoral region is actually the Shooters candidate.

With the upper house count well behind the lower house count, these results may change. However, currently Fluoride Free is winning a seat in East Metro region on just 0.35%. A quota is 1/7 of the vote, or 14.3%.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.